Hanukkah

dreidelcandies.jpgI was recently roped I…I mean asked to participate in Canter’s Chanters Chanukah Extravaganza at my Temple. When it was first presented to me, I thought, ‘Great, our Canter is a cool guy and is probably open to doing some improv or something with the kids. That’s got to be why he’s asking me. This’ll be fun.”

But, no. He griped that the kids were positively incapable of doing improv and that was why he prevailed on my services as well as other Temple members who happened to be performers; to write and perform small vignettes that would be done eight times, as eight groups were led through the Temple. The motif was to be “You want to know what Chanukah is all about? I’ll tell you what Chanukah’s all about…”

Each group was to represent one aspect of the celebration. My friend Amy Simon, writer and performer of the wonderful show Cheerios in My Underpants, volunteered to create some sort of wrap-around to feature ‘latkes’.  She had the run of the Temple kitchen and would be making real latkes to give to the kids. Her idea was to create a Bubbie personae.

Dreidels were up for grabs so I decided to take a whack at it. I love games and this is a mindless game much like Yahtzee, only you win pennies or chocolate. 

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kugel.killerI don’t make a lot of kugels.  I don’t make them because my kids don’t really eat them and as much as I want to eat the whole tray, it would take me a month to work off the calories.  My grandma used to make them all the time.  What I loved most about her kugels were the left overs.  

The following day, for breakfast, she would cut off a slice, put some butter in a saute pan and literally pan fry the slice of kugel.  Like the kugel really  needs anymore butter than it already has.  Yet, it is a childhood memory that is rests comfortably on my tastes buds.

My sister-in-law, Tammy is the official kugel creator in our family.  She makes them all time and her 3 kids devour it.  Tonight, my kids experienced kugel for one of the first times (in the past, they  have turned their noses up at it).  They are kugel converts. This kugel would make anyone a convert!

I am guilty of eating seconds.  It is that good!

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homecoming-picture-1.jpgMy husband is on active duty in the US Army, and for our first holiday season together we were living in a little town called Sierra Vista, Arizona, which is adjacent to Fort Huachuca, where he was stationed.  Since we had only been married since the previous January and we were just starting our life together, we couldn’t afford to go home to our beloved California and our families for the holidays, so we were toughing it out in Sierra Vista alone. 

Being Jewish, no holiday season was complete for me without my mom’s fabulous potato latkes, and by Christmas Day (which also happened to be the last night of Hanukkah), I was feeling pretty down at the prospect of the holiday season passing without them.  My husband, wanting to make me happy, suggested that we make them for Christmas dinner.  Since he is Christian and had never had potato latkes before, I thought this would be a wonderful way to introduce him to a delicious new food and also to merge our holiday customs and traditions together, setting a precedent for the years of holidays to come.  I enthusiastically agreed.

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lattladies.jpgFor dinner on the first night of Hanukkah my mother always started with a romaine lettuce salad topped with scallions and Lawry's French Dressing. Then there was a brisket of beef with carrots and mushroom gravy. But the real stars of the meal were the latkes served with apple sauce and sour cream.

My mother's latke recipe was handed down from her mother: grated potatoes, eggs, flour, a little salt and pepper. She'd fry them in vegetable oil and serve them as soon as they were browned. So simple and yet the result was so soul-comforting: crispy on the outside, soft inside, with just the right amount of oil and salt. There are few dishes that are as satisfying as food and so emotionally evocative.

Like most kids, my sister, Barbara, and I waited eagerly at the table. As soon as the plate full of latkes was passed around, we emptied it. I kept count, because I didn't want her to have more than I did. They were that good. When my grandmother was in town, she and my mother made Hanukkah dinner together. Their relationship was competitive to say the least, so there was always considerable discussion about the right way to make the latkes: flour vs. matzo meal; onions or no onions. My grandmother liked to point out that she had given my mother her latkes recipe but my mom insisted that she hadn't remembered it correctly.

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Olive Oil Bundt CakeI'm wishing a Happy Hanukkah to all of our Jewish friends. Since Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days the Jewish people celebrate with foods that include oil.

Fried foods like potato pancakes (“latkas” in Yiddish) and doughnuts (“sufganiyot” in Hebrew) are traditional Hanukkah treats because they are cooked in oil and remind the Jewish people of the miracle of the holiday. So why not an olive oil cake!! Instead of butter, oil is used to create this beautiful dessert. And best of all, no mixer is required. We also have some other great Hanukkah recipes for you to enjoy.

And the tangerine glaze…wow. I have a whole bowl of Satsumas on the counter, and they are as juicy as can be. Perfect to squeeze and bake into this cake and glaze.

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